How Many Bullets Will it Take–Teen Drama fights back

Will we have to find ourselves in a country of over-twenty-ones? Will we bury the last of our school children before our country considers ALL of the deadly dynamics culminating in an historic loss of young lives due to violence? A newly published drama for teens and adults invites audiences to challenge current assumptions about the latest national outrage.

The Birth of Sniper

Writer Bonnie Culver PhotoIt is now 2018. In 2005, Bonnie Culver’s  play Sniper premiered off-off Broadway—and it had been in the revision process since 1994. Little has changed since then.

Before the New York debut and after the subsequent school shootings in Oklahoma City and Columbine,  school productions were abruptly cancelled—producing a play that imagined the events leading up to the first school shooting in Olean might be glorifying violence.

The First Event

Now the director of the Maslow MA/MFA Creative Writing Program for Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Culver saw the red flag of the first school shooting “up close and personal”:

This play started the day the event happened. I was there, in Olean, that afternoon, buying a wedding dress with my mother. We pulled out of a parking lot and left for home, Port Allegheny, Pennsylvania, at 1:30. The shooting started between 2 and 2:30.

In the car we heard an emergency broadcast for everyone to evacuate downtown Olean, with no further details. That night, at home, we turned on the TV news and saw the whole thing. –The Villager January 19 -25, 2005.

The result of that experience was the first of many drafts of Sniper. which eventually played to enthusiastic audiences off-off-Broadway at Center Stage in NYC.

Front Cover Sniper - A Play in One ActThe Search for Answers

When reviewing the production, a couple of critics had a problem with one aspect: the play provides no answers. A doctor, a priest, a police chief, and Anthony himself try to find explanations for the slaughter. But there are no easy answers here.  Not even for Anthony.

And, in the long run, this is the strength of the play for audiences in 2018. We run from objectively examining ALL of the potential roots of the ongoing slaughter of the children who expect adults to protect them.

In the Running

It’s not hard to point a finger. Among the personal issues to make the short list:

  • Bullying by other students
  • Indifferent school systems and teachers
  • Mental illness
  • The desire for notoriety

Child looking depressedAll of these issues have been bandied about in a search for an elusive cure for our country’s troubled national psyche—to no avail. Trying to identify the True Believer among the multitude of dark thoughts uttered by marginally distressed adolescents is a fool’s errand.

Anyone who has conducted a psychological assessment realizes the limited predictive value of such instruments. Every adolescent is bullied at some time or other—or perceives it to be so. Every adolescent has a fantasy of fame and glory.

As elusive as these factors are, they are definitely in the mix. We need background checks on gun purchases as well as waiting times. We need to keep developing better screening and awareness among school personnel.

But what is wrong with our collective unconscious that the issue of gun ownership completely off the table? Mention gun control in some circles and you’d think you’d threatened to rape their wives and daughters—to say nothing of their sons. I’ll leave it to the psychiatric profession to tackle the question of why we, as an American society, we seem to have gone nuts.

Why Mental Health Issues Vs. Guns; Why Not Mental Health Issues AND Guns?

I grew up in a family that hunted. By the age of six, I had eaten venison and elk.  I have owned guns and used them. Granted, guns are not THE ONLY source of school shootings. But there are some elements existent, in one combination or another,  at all the school massacres:

  • A distressed adolescent
  • A history of dysfunction
  • A desire for fame or notoriety
  • A need for revenge
  • AND guns

Some Evidence

It is never possible to set up scientific protocols in social situations. We can’t have control groups to find out whether a group of children who are beaten are more prone to violence than a group who are treated kindly. We can look at data, though.

The Guardian assesses the effect of monitoring gun control in four countries– Australia, the UK, Japan,   and Germany.

The Data

“Thirty people will be shot dead in America today. On average. It could be more. If it’s less, then more will die tomorrow. Or the next day.

Child looking depressed“The United States’s gun homicide rate is 25 times higher than other high-income countries . . . Americans are divided on whether the country’s gun deaths could be reduced through tougher laws on gun ownership. Liberals argue that legal restrictions on gun ownership could save lives. Conservatives say that tougher gun laws would do nothing to change the behaviour of violent criminals. . . .

“After similar mass shootings, other countries have taken more dramatic steps to regulate gun ownership. A look at four countries show that tougher gun laws have been central to these efforts, but that enforcement and culture may also play important roles in preventing violence.” –The Guardian US Edition

The takeaway from this recent Guardian article is that, yes, social and environmental factors play their role, but so does the prevalence and availability of guns. Why are we so afraid to even put this on the table for discussion?

Guns and Sniper

To its credit, the 90-minute drama Sniper, a  play for teens and adult audiences, does not raise the issue of gun regulation.  it is not a play that advocates solutions. What it does dramatize, however, are the roles that religious advisers,  police oversight, family members and relationships, and psychological issues play in the evolution of a violent act. What this play makes clear is how tenuous these “causes” are.

Until we can lay ALL the issues on the table for equal scrutiny, Bonnie Culver may have to write sequel after sequel after sequel.

View Details of the play Sniper


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